How Traveling Solo Helped My Heart Find Its Missing Half (Part 1)

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INCIPIMUS ITERUM (Begin Again)

After almost a year of discretionary hiatus from my ESL teaching and directorial career, I suddenly found myself preparing for another impelling yet risky undertaking. Reading through some blogs of solo travelers and how the experience changed their somewhat mundane lives, the idea of traveling alone woke me up from my slumber. Yeah, you read it right. Because I was consumed by setbacks after failure hit my career hard, bouncing back didn’t feel like happening sooner. But thanks to the exhilarating blogs I encountered and a friend’s morale-boosting that emboldened me to follow the trusting moment and begin a cathartic if not a metamorphic journey.

With a backpack, a gym bag and tons of positivity my soul held closely, I bid my sister and our dog, Bruna farewell and embarked for Dumaguete, the gateway to my interisland wandering. As high as the excitement seemed, the fear of coming up against the unknown was also undeniably and equally high. You see, apart from being positive, I was just being realistic in the face of uncertainty.

THEN CAME THE INFLECTION POINT

The quaint vibe of the city was homey, a silent sanctuary when the reality of being away from home finally sank in. After settling in at a hostel, I strolled around the Silliman University campus and came across the famous street food hub where locals, students, and tourists gathered, reveling in some good food and camaraderie. I sat at the seawall, engrossed by the whispers coming from the sea. The night was young and everything around came alive. Did I feel lonely looking at the groups of students laughing and families clustering together over dinner? Seriously, NO. In fact, it was there that I realized the vast range of possibilities life offers. Looking intently at the prominent Silliman University building, I thought of my paternal great-grandfather, Jacinto, and grandfather, Pablo who both studied there and earned their AB Philosophy and AB Political Science degrees respectively. The former became a school principal and the latter, a lawyer. I imagined how lofty their dreams were in those days when people thought of education as something hard to get by. That night, I went back to the hostel with a renewed hope coupled with a rather spunky spirit.

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The street food hub right across the Silliman University campus

GETTING UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH NATURE

The next morning, I headed to the town of Sibulan, a 45-minute motorcycle ride from Dumaguete City to see the hidden Twin Lakes Balinsasayao and Danao. The road was so steep I had to hold on for dear life. Nonetheless, the surrounding mountains kept taking my breath away with their out of the ordinary beauty. The experience going up was just so spectacular I had to remind myself that everything was real. As if being in awe was not enough, I felt like I was transported to another world upon reaching Lake Balinsasayao then after almost an hour trekking through the rainforest, Lake Danao.  The serenity surrounding the lakes was hard to forget not discounting the fact that their bewitching charm sent a thousand emotions I couldn’t even describe. The mysterious appeal bordered fear and excitement within my curious mind. As I walked back to the reception area, I could not help but be grateful for such a magnificent experience, unmindful of how tired I was.

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As enchanting as it looks. The smaller caldera before reaching the Twin Lakes Balinsasayao and Danao

In the afternoon, I went straight to the town of Tanjay from Sibulan. Again I had to travel for almost an hour, expecting another mind-blowing adventure. In such a laid-back city, no one would even think it is hiding paradise right in the middle of the mangrove forest. I have already seen a lot of mangrove forest projects but what sets Tanjay Boardwalk apart is how its design was well thought of and the cottages built around the premises are environment-friendly. When I set foot on its viewing deck at the end of the forest, I was amazed to see the island of Cebu on the left and Siquijor on the right. From a distance, the view of the two islands looked within reach. It was as if they were just taking a peek at each other, trying to understand all their elements and eventually embracing their respective differences.

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Mangrove Boardwalk at Tanjay, Negros Oriental

THEN I MET HER OTHER SIDE 

On another day, a scientific encounter caught me off guard. Going past the highway leading to Pulangbato Falls, I unexpectedly caught sight of Mt. Talinis’ vents disgorging what looked like white clouds of smoke. As I got closer, I realized it was actually spewing sulfuric smoke that left me literally gasping for air. I found out later on that it was the source of geothermal energy processed in a plant located on top of the mountains of Valencia. Despite the dangers along the highway, I thought it was interesting. Discerning how close I was to a volcanic activity may have sent chills down my spine but the thought that I was even close to something so perplexing thrilled me. What more? It overall warrants the notion that beyond any scientific vindication, the universe still points to the Divine Being who holds everything within His fingers; that His creation transcends any human knowledge, thus remains impenetrable.

 

Moving on, I arrived at Pulangbato Falls, a short 10-minute ride from the sulfur vents. The red rocks sprawling around were so conspicuous that day I could not help but notice. Does the sulfuric smoke have anything to do with the variation of rocks? Perhaps. The vents are just a stone’s throw from the falls, after all. As the water cascades endlessly, the possibility of rocks turning red is high because of the iron minerals. Thinking about all the chemical processes for the first time, I stood at the foot of the falls trying to take in all the mind-boggling realities. I was changed. Words were never enough to illustrate how nature and its never-ending surprise put my mind to test. Like a bolt from the blue, it taught me a lesson: when you accept things as they are no matter how confusing they may seem, they don’t change but you do. The inevitable will then outstretch your mind, enrich your soul and soothe your heart.

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COMING TO TERMS WITH MYSELF

On the last day of my trip around the southern part of Negros Oriental, I was torn between going to Siquijor or Sipalay. Why Siquijor? I was not able to pay my last respects to a friend who taught me a lot of things in life so I wanted to visit her grave. She brought me to the island one semestral break in 2000 and had the most exciting trip, defying the stereotype of Siquijor as the land of voodoo or black magic and love potion. Unfortunately, the weather was not favorable so I chose to go to Sipalay, instead.  A 6-hour bus ride from Dumaguete via Bayawan and Hinobaan, I did not have any hint of what to expect in a place I only saw on a blogger’s page. So when I arrived there, I asked around and got lucky to have hired a kind motorcycle driver who brought me to Artistic Diving Resort for Php150 and agreed for a Php300-charge resorts tour the next day. A lot of tourists had to cough up Php1200 for the same tour. Just before the sunset, I took a walk outside the resort to see what Sipalay had in store for me. Then I stumbled upon Archery Asia in Easy Diving Resort, just a few blocks away. Joining in an Australian family of 7, our 3D archery competition was action-packed! Though it was my first attempt, I was kinda surprised how Katniss Everdeen suddenly showed up. Haha.

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Archery Asia in Sipalay

Looking back, it was so regrettable that I only stayed in Sipalay for 2 days. Its jewel-like locale consisting of skyscraping mountains, coastal and atoll lagoons, pristine white beaches and distinctive islets visible from afar transported pleasure that overwhelmed me. On my last day there, my driver turned tour guide cum photographer, Manong Jojo brought me to the most beautiful spots in Sipalay. On top of Perth Paradise and Tinagong Dagat, green islets that are strung out over the blue sea became perceptible to me. Whether I moved up or down, I was surrounded by various aesthetic components that only nature can strike in an effortless manner. It was more of a spiritual experience for me; to be able to commune with nature and let its life breathe into my soul. I wasn’t even halfway through my journey yet but I felt like I was whole again. It is the most special place I long to see again for it was where I regained my faith in everything.

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Tinagong Dagat in Sipalay, Negros Occidental

AND MORE TO COME

The notion that traveling is the best path to healing still holds true. My journey via solo traveling is a testament that introspection done in different places will transform your emotional imagery of pain. When you see wonderful places, engage in pleasant conversations with anyone you meet for the first time, and try new things you never thought possible, happiness will have a personal place in your life. Such happiness will carry you through and bring you to where half of your heart awaits you.

 

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